By 1947 when India gained Independence, radio broadcasting had taken shape as a state-owned medium, while the print media were privately owned. According to the first Press Commission report, in 1953 there were 370 daily newspapers in India, of which 41 were in English and the rest in Indian languages. However, the 41 English dailies had a circulation of about 0.65 million copies out of the total 2.50 million of all dailies circulating in India (Govt, of India, 1954: 15). The English-language press had an advantage as advertisers were willing to pay better advertising rates, as circulation was significantly higher. English newspapers also offered better perks to their journalists than their Indian-language counterparts. In contrast, the Indian press system, classified as big, medium and small based on circulation, were constantly seeking support from the government (Mani, 1952).
It is to the credit of the Indian press, both English and the Indian language press, that they maintained their adversarial role after Independence.The Press Laws Enquiry Committee was set up to look into the laws governing the functioning of the press and noted at least 12 laws that restricted press freedom (Govt, of India, 1948). Prime Minister Nehru’s belief in the freedom of the press shaped the constitutional provisions for press freedom in Article 19 of the Indian constitution (Rau, 2016). However, the addition of reasonable restrictions in the Article, including many qualifiers, limited the initial liberal enthusiasm. Both Nehru and his then Home Minister Sardar Patel worked together to bring in the first amendment to place restrictions on the press (Daniyal, 2015). In the absence of any meaningful opposition to the ruling Indian National Congress party that held sway over most of India from independence until the 1970s, the critique provided in the newspapers did keep the readers’ (albeit elite) faith alive in what they considered as democracy.
The adversarial attitude of the privately owned Indian press, by default, compelled the establishment to develop and depend on other mass media, particularly broadcasting. Broadcasting from the very beginning was subsumed in the framework of the archaic Indian Telegraph Act that allowed the state to adopt licensing and regulatory regime. Radio in India operated through the public broadcaster, All
India Radio, with a vast network of 470 stations covering the entire country with about 92 per cent of the area and 99 per cent of the population.
The Nehruvian approach towards the press and its freedom did not apply to broadcasting (Rau, 2016). It found it convenient to let radio remain under government control. The state television broadcaster, Doordarshan, inaugurated in 1960s, was also state controlled. A summative look at communication policy during that era suggests that the Nehruvian period had an overwhelming belief in mass media and its perceived role in development and nation-building. The planning approach it adopted for development posited a publicity role for mass media (Vidyalankar, 1963).
By 1967 when a comprehensive committee had examined the matrix of communication and media system in India, it was evident that its expansion was not commensurate with what was needed. Disappointment with government control of broadcasting was constant. ‘Broadcasting should hereafter be entrusted to autonomous corporations, to be constituted separately for radio and television’.The hesitant expansion and unimaginative use of the media was highlighted, including the lament that its development was not considered as a basic facility (Chanda Report, 1966: 44).
Development mantra and broadcast media
As well as the importance of the media in ‘nation-building’, the relationship between communication and development was characterized in India, as a developing country from the 1950s to the 1990s, through the prevailing modernization paradigm. Radio Rural Forums and the Delhi School Television Project were examples of media use for national development. The Finance Ministry was disinclined to give any funding for television as it considered the medium to be merely a status symbol and not as important for a poor country (Luthra, 1986: 56). Strong advice from UNESCO and fortuitous access to a Philips transmitter (left behind after an industrial fair) persuaded India to adopt communication satellites as a means of bypassing terrestrial limitations to expansion. This experimental TV service in India was launched in 1959. The Ford Foundation (Lerner et al., 1977), and diffusion studies in health and agriculture indicated the potential role for satellites in development through visual media in a country with very low levels of literacy, especially in rural areas (Rogers, 1978; Melkote and Steeves, 2015).
The Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE) (1975-1976) was a significant policy shift for India: reversing the usual pattern of urban first and rural later, it took television directly to about 2,400 villages in six states of India. The planning for SITE was part of India’s atomic energy policy that was subsequently hived off into a space programme (Chander and Karnik, 1976). The experiment lasted for only a year and its evaluation was a mammoth exercise involving a host of institutions engaged in education, broadcasting and technology development, including the Planning Commission, the then highest planning think tank in India.
The experiment also formalized television research in India across the academia and policy circles.
The comprehensive evaluation of the SITE experiment was to form the basis for a decision to adopt satellite technology' as the means for broadcasting and telecommunication needs. The decision was made even before the experiment ended. The commercial interests of US satellite manufacturers provided the reason for strictly adhering to the one-year experiment despite India wanting an extension. It may be pointed out that the first Indian National Satellite systems were built by Ford Aerospace and Communications Corporation. Ford Foundation India was an active think tank that among other things advocated and promoted television.
The trajectory of television growth in India after the SITE experiment did not realize the hoped-for potential for development. Numerous scholars and committees have commented on the failure to meet its goals (Joshi, 1985; Sanjay, 1991). Comprehensive analysis of evaluation reports shows that the main result was to confirm that the technological basis for television expansion in India should be through satellite transmission (Agrawal, 1981). Later analysis states explicitly that the technology imperative had guided the educational or developmental agenda more than any other macro assessment of need (Patel, 1999).